Friday, April 13, 2007

Bristling With Hostility

“In contemporary American culture, the religions are more and more treated as just passing beliefs – almost as fads, older, stuffier, less liberal versions of so called New Age – rather than as the fundaments upon which the devout build their lives. (The noes have it!) And if religions are fundamental, well too bad – at least they’re the wrong fundaments – if they’re inconvenient, give them up!”

- Stephen Carter – “The Culture of Disbelief” (1993)

There have been a lot of discussions about censorship and free speech over the past few days. Imus is in the national news. Here in Emporia, commentary about Somali refugees on the local newspaper’s internet forum has prompted heated discourse about free speech and its limits.

Free speech is often messy. The lines between decency and filth aren’t always as clear as they were in the Imus case or in the cases of child pornography. Almost all of us know that we don’t have the free speech right to libel another person. We know that we don’t have the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. But what about the person who publicly calls another a fool? What about the person who says he doesn’t like Somalis? What about the person who says he doesn’t like another’s religion? Should they be censored because they say unpopular things? At what point do we cross a line and censor all thought that’s not in keeping with the current “mainstream?”

I looked back through my archives and found the following piece from August, 2006. I wrote then about a judicial decision that all but censored Prison Fellowship Ministries from the public square. It was subtle; it was legal. But was it right? It seems there’s a great appetite in this country to squelch opinions and beliefs that aren’t considered “mainstream.”
The original essay follows.

Sometimes bad news comes under the radar like the attack on Pearl Harbor. In a June 2, 2006 decision, Robert Pratt, Chief Judge of the Des Moines, Iowa circuit, ruled against Prison Fellowship Ministries in a lawsuit that had been filed against the ministry by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The net effect of the ruling was to declare Prison Fellowship’s faith based ministry unconstitutional. Judge Pratt has given Prison Fellowship sixty days to vacate its work, pending an almost certain appeal.

Judge Pratt’s primary rationale for the ruling was that:

“The program was “pervasively sectarian,” requiring participants to attend worship services, weekly revivals and religious community meetings. Participating inmates also were ordered to “engage in daily religious devotional practice.”

Barry Lynn, American’s United for Separation of Church and State’s executive director, couldn’t contain his joy over the rendered decision:

“There is no way to interpret this decision as anything but a body blow to so-called faith-based initiatives.”

The decision, if upheld, will have a major impact, there’s no doubt about it. For example, out nation’s prison recidivism rate is, according to Prison Fellowship’s president Mark Early, currently running at fifty percent. With 600,000 inmates being released from prison annually, it means that we can count on 300,000 doing something within three years to merit re-incarceration. The recidivism rate among those inmates who have worked their way through Prison Fellowship’s program is, while it’s still functioning, running at eight to eleven percent. The potential of that number is enormous. Think of it. Prison Fellowship’s number, applied to the current release rate, could mean that thousands fewer former prisoners would find their way back into the prison system. It could also mean that thousands and thousands fewer Americans might become victims of crime.

And this is the kind of decision that Barry Lynn is hailing! Apparently, higher recidivism was a much more favorable outcome in his mind than excoriating a fellow Christian. Its anti-faith bias is much in keeping with the 2000 Santa Fe School Board vs. Doe decision that brought this withering dissent from Chief Justice William Rehnquist:

“The Court distorts existing precedent to conclude that the school district’s student-message program is invalid on its face under the Establishment Clause. But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court’s opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Presidential Proclamation, 1 Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789—1897, p. 64 (J. Richardson ed. 1897).”

While I have no doubt that Prison Fellowship will survive this battle, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, I’m troubled by this decision. I read the full transcript of the decision earlier today and I can now see clearly just how hostile our courts and culture are becoming to religion, particularly Evangelical Christianity. Having read the decision I can now see that, beyond the logistics and rationales for recent anti-faith decisions, some within our judiciary and other organizations (Americans United, for example) are using the nation’s courts as a testing ground to decide which religious beliefs are normative and which aren’t. The circuit court in Des Moines made what amounted to a theological decision, enshrining its view of normative religion and subtly declaring that Evangelical Christianity was not in the mainstream of any religion, particularly Christian religion. Lest you think I’m a conspiracy theorist I’ll cite some examples directly from the decision. The first, written early on in the decision follows:

“Throughout this Memorandum and Order, the Court will describe Prison Fellowship and
InnerChange’s theological position, as reflected in its public statements, curriculum, and in practice at the Newton Facility, as Evangelical Christian rather than simply Christian or Non-Denominational Christian.”

About a page later the following judicial opinion was rendered:

“As will be evident from the facts set forth, the religious nature of the InnerChange program is not only distinct from non-Christian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Native American practices, and Judaism, for example) as well as atheist or agnostic practices, it is also quite distinct from other self-described Christian faiths, such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Greek Orthodoxy. Evidence shows that the Evangelical Christian message is also distinct from the beliefs held by self-described Protestant Christian denominations such as Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, again, to name only a few.”

What was so egregiously out of the mainstream of current Christian thought? The court cited Prison Fellowship’s statement of faith:

“We believe in one God, Creator and Lord of the Universe; the coeternal Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary atoning death on the cross, rose bodily from the dead, and ascended to heaven where, as truly God and truly man, He is the only mediator between God and man.

“We believe that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, and its own origins, and salvation. Christians must submit to its divine authority both individually and corporately, in all matters of belief and conduct, which is demonstrated by true righteous living. We believe that all people are lost sinners and cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven except through the new birth. Justification is by grace through faith in Christ alone. We believe in one holy, universal, and apostolic Church. Its calling is to worship God and witness concerning its Head, Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel among all nations and demonstrating its commitment by compassionate service to the needs of human beings and promoting righteousness and justice.”

“We believe in the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit for the individual’s new birth and growth to maturity and for the Church’s constant renewal in truth, wisdom, faith, holiness, love, power, and mission. We believe that Jesus Christ will personally and visibly return in glory to raise the dead and bring salvation and judgment to completion. God will fully manifest His Kingdom when He establishes a new heaven and new earth, in which He will be glorified forever and exclude all evil, suffering, and death.”

Once you’ve read the statement of faith I hope you’ll find it eerily reminiscent of statements the Christian Church has made throughout human history, such as the Nicene Creed, which follows:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

But, the court didn’t stop there. It ended with this flourish, which was enough to make what little hair I have on my head stand on end:

“Evangelical Christianity tends to be anti-sacramental, which means it downplays the traditional sacramental Christian events—baptism, holy communion or Eucharist, marriage, ordination, etc.—as appropriate ways to interact or meet with God. Along with initial adult conversion, contemporary Evangelical Christianity emphasizes religious experience—the actual experience of God in the believer’s life. Evangelical Christians, therefore, are receptive to overt, actual displays of this experience much like those manifested in Pentecostal Christianity. Additionally, for Evangelical Christians, everything that happens in the world is understood through and interpreted by religious language. For many Evangelical Christians, the belief in creationism and suspicion of evolutionary theory is also present. Finally, the Evangelical Christian stance toward religious institutions is one of suspicion. This is most obviously seen in the worship style. Whereas traditional, organized religious groups, such as Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and Lutherans, employ a structured, highly liturgical style of worship, Evangelical Christian worship is free form with individual pastors given authority to determine how services are planned. For instance, Evangelical Christians have embraced contemporary music forms and multi-media presentations.”
I’m sure that Judge Pratt would insist that he made his decision in the matter based on the merits, and would be able to provide enough legal smokescreens to prove his point. I don’t for a moment believe him, nor do I believe in the good will of Barry Lynn and the folks at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. What the decision says, clearly, is that anyone else who takes their faith as seriously as Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Intelligent Design proponents, and others who actually have the temerity to believe in “actual, overt displays” of faith in the public square will have no standing in this nation’s courts. They’re heretics, living and thinking in direct opposition to the prevailing religion, whatever the courts determine it to be. Not only is the decision rendered by Judge Pratt bristling with hostility, it’s bristling with the kind of theological insanity that could effectively shut religion out of American public life and policy.


JayMagoo said...

America was intended to be a secular nation. Religious types constantly dispute that notion and jump through hoops to argue against it. All of their efforts notwithstanding, the courts have had their say.
So I'll repeat it (because it bears repeating): America was intended to be a secular nation.

The prison religious fellowship, or any other religious program or institution that tries to act under the authority of government, whether that government be a prison board, a school board, or Congress of the United States, is contrary to the intent of the founders. The courts, if they are consistant will rule that such a program is against the First Amendment.
I pay taxes. I also give contributions to my church, because I want to. I do not want my taxes go to support your church. If I wanted my taxes to support your church, I would contribute to your church. But I don't want to.
I also don't want my taxes used (by the Iowa prison system) to support any program that promotes your religion, or any other religion.
I also don't want any institution that I support with my taxes, to promote any program that forces anybody's religion, mine or yours or anybody else's, on inmates. I don't care what kind of good they do. If the prison system wants to help inmates, institute a secular, non-religious program to do it and I will gladly pay taxes to support it.
I don't understand why the religious types don't "get it." Keep religion out of government. It's not complicated.
Yet they are constantly trying. They even go so far as to say the First Amendment doesn't say what it clearly says. This is a form of dishonesty that is definitely inappropriate for people who claim to be religious.
Religious people have free speech. Your claim that their free speech has been taken away is a false claim and you should examine your conscious for having said it. You may speak freely, worship freely, exercise your religious freely. Just don't do it on my tax dollar, in government buildings I support with my taxes, or to people who are forced by government to listen to you.
HOwever, I expect we will continue to hear passionate arguments, again and again, ad nauseum, from the religious people.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


I think you missed the point. The Des Moines circuit didn't argue that religion in public was illegal in this case. They argued that certain types of religion (Pentecostal, Evangelical) was illegal. I suspect if the group had been on the "approved" list there wouldn't have been a problem at all.

I also suggest you read works like John Neuhaus's "The Naked Public Square" or Michael Novak's "On Two Wings." I'm not sure they'll change your mind, but they will demonstrate that our founding fathers were not as secular as many would like to present them to be.

Jim Baxter said...

Carl V. "Sam" Lamb and I served side-by-side as rifle-squad
leaders; Fox Company, 'Chesty' Puller's 1st Marines, 1st Marine
Division. He wrote a book about our experiences in the Korean
conflict, 1950-1951. He included my remarks about an incident in
which one of our people threatened to punch-out a fellow squad-
leader who had black skin.

+ + +

by Carl V. "Sam" Lamb Page 296 (re 1951)

James Fletcher Baxter

"Sam" and I had a lot in common. We both resisted evil. After I
got out of the hospital, Big Jim Causey told of driving along
in his police cruiser and hitting a black man in his head
with his pistol. He thought it was funny how the guy sprawled
into the street. When he made this comment we were in a card
game. I didn't say anything, but then he said he was going to
kick the shit out of Joe Goggins and I had heard enough. I
said, "If you're going to try that, you'll have to go through
me to get to him. I'm willing to give my life for a country
that values each individual. If that isn't true, I don't want
to fight for that country - but, it is true, so I'm not going
to let you rob me of the very good reason I may lose my life
tomorrow or next week. If you attack him, you attack me. I
may lose, but I guarantee I will make it very expensive for
you to get to him. Let me know what you decide."

He got up from our card game and said, "I'll have to think
about it."

I said, "Let me know. I'll be here."

He came back a little later and said, "You're right. I was
wrong." I thanked him for his manliness.

Joe Goggins came to me later and thanked me. He had wet eyes.

+ + +

Added 4/14/07 to: anichols NYDailyNews w/Thanx:

Shortly after the above event, Jim Causey was called home for family
member medical problems. On his way back to the States, he passed
through a Naval medical facility. While there he ran into my brother
"Barney" who had just been sent stateside for his Chosen Reservoir
frost-bitten feet.

He told my brother what had happened and said "how much it
had changed " his life. He said Joe and I had forgiven him and he
would "never go back to the old collective point of view." He was
really joyful because he was honestly able to forgive himself! He
became a manly man - a good Marine. - with Honor.

I'm pleased the Rutgers women accepted Imus' apology. They, and
others, need to forgive. We all need to grow. Good examples are
always in short supply. God bless my Country and its individuals.
vincit veritas

Jim Baxter
WWII & Korean War
semper fidelis

Santa Maria, CA

+ + +

Rob in L.A. said...

Phil’s post above is very disingenuous. It never once mentions the reason for the trial in the first place: tax funding of a religious organization. The entire tone of the post gives the impression that a religion itself was on trial. That is clearly not the case. The trial was about whether American tax dollars should go to a religious organization that advocates one sectarian view to the exclusion of others. Judge Pratt wisely answered no. Phil is spinning this decision into legal and cultural "hostility" toward a religious belief, when it is obviously no such thing.

The issue isn’t which religions are "normative" and which aren’t. The issue is government funding for sectarian religion — something that the First Amendment prohibits.

Judge Pratt was not characterizing Evangelical Christianity the way he did in order to stigmatize it. He was merely specifying the differences between that version of Christianity and others in order to counter the argument that Prison Fellowship was non-denominational. Judge Pratt found that Prison Fellowship was indeed denominational and thus ineligible for tax funding.

I am a member of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (A.U.), although I am not writing on behalf of that organization. As such, I question the prison recidivism rates that Phil quotes. In his book Piety and Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom, A.U. executive director the Rev. Barry Lynn mentions Prison Fellowship:

"In 2003 the group Prison Fellowship, run by ex-Watergate felon Charles Colson, released a study indicating that prison inmates who had gone through his InnerChange program in Texas, which is steeped in fundamentalism, had a lower rate of recidivism, returning to prison less often than members of a control group.

"The media eagerly picked up on the study and reported it as a great success for [President George W. Bush’s] faith-based initiatives. But it wasn’t all that. The study simply did not hold up under scrutiny. Two months after it was released in June of 2003, Mark A.R. Kleiman, University of California-Los Angeles professor of public policy, debunked it. Kleiman noted that Prison Fellowship started out with 177 inmates. Along the way, 102 of them were kicked out of the group or left for various reasons. That left InnerChange with only success stories.

"When Kleiman added all 177 inmates back into the study, he found that InnerChange inmates actually did slightly worse on recidivism than the control group. Observed Kleiman in
Slate magazine, ‘That result ought to discourage InnerChange’s advocates, but it doesn’t because they have just ignored the failure of the failures and focused on the success of the successes.’" (pages 126-27)

Some religious activists have adopted a kind of victim mentality. Religion is alive and well in the United States, but some activists apparently feel that if the government doesn’t specifically endorse their belief system — and only their particular belief system — something is wrong. So, activists have spun governmental neutrality toward religion into governmental hostility toward religion. They constantly use the phrase "religion in the public square" when what they really mean is tax money in support of Christian sectarianism. I’m tired of this intellectual dishonesty.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


IK understand what the rationale was. I understand the need to ensure that government doesn't endorse one type of religion over another. My point was that in this case Evangelicals were being singled out, not on the issue of taxes, but based on system of belief.

In pointing out Justice Rhenquist's opinion in the Santa Fe case I was identifying the same tone of hostility in the case against Prison Fellowship.

I've done volunteer work in the prison system and every one I've been in has chapel programs paid for by the state or federal government. I've seen Muslim gatherings, traditional protestant gatherings, etc. Do you object to these programs as well? Are you saying that they should be dismantled and that we have no religious influence in the prison system at all?

I'll review the 2003 study and Professor Klienman's commentary and let you know what I think.

Are you assuming that since, as you say, I'm being intellectually dishonest, that my religious belief is also intellectually dishonest and out of the mainstream represented by Americans United? Would that then mean that I have no public standing?

Rob in L.A. said...

"IK [sic] understand what the rationale was. I understand the need to ensure that government doesn’t endorse one type of religion over another. My point was that in this case Evangelicals were being singled out, not on the issue of taxes, but based on system of belief.

"In pointing out Justice Rhenquist's opinion in the Santa Fe case I was identifying the same tone of hostility in the case against Prison Fellowship." —Phil Dillon

And I don’t see the hostility. To be frank, I think that you are trying to create "hostility" where none exists. Why don’t you mention the instigating issue of taxes even once during your original post? After all, it was Prison Fellowship’s eligibility or ineligibility to receive tax dollars — not the ministry itself — that was on trial. Moreover, the outcome of the trial did not say that Prison Fellowship should be penalized while other religions should be funded. This is something that your original post doesn’t acknowledge, and to my eyes, not acknowledging such a central subject smacks of willfully ignoring it in order to misrepresent the legal case.

Your original post goes on to say: "The net effect of the ruling was to declare Prison Fellowship’s faith-based ministry unconstitutional." This is absolutely untrue. What was declared unconstitutional was the ministry’s ability to accept tax dollars and continue its sectarian religious practices in the name of public service. No legal punishment was meted out to the ministry itself. (And I do not regard the denial of federal funds to a religious institution as punishment.)

"I’ve done volunteer work in the prison system and every one I’ve been in has chapel programs paid for by the state or federal government. I've seen Muslim gatherings, traditional protestant gatherings, etc. Do you object to these programs as well? Are you saying that they should be dismantled and that we have no religious influence in the prison system at all?" —Phil

No, I am not saying that. But why can’t those sectarian gatherings be paid for by private funds, not tax dollars? And I would see nothing wrong with a publicly financed prison accommodating a privately financed religious service.

Also, I would hope that any prison system would not show preferential treatment to one religion or denomination over another, such as giving an inmate a greater opportunity for parole if he attended one religious gathering but not another. In his book Piety and Politics, the Rev. Lynn says that the Prison Fellowship program in Texas was riddled with perks for the inmates who took part, perks denied to those inmates who didn’t (p. 128). The government should not be in the business of funding religious favoritism.

"Are you assuming that since, as you say, I’m being intellectually dishonest, that my religious belief is also intellectually dishonest and out of the mainstream represented by Americans United? Would that then mean that I have no public standing?" —Phil

I honestly don’t see your reasoning here. Anyone has the right to hold any religious belief that they choose — as long as that belief isn’t unreasonably imposed upon others — however "illogical" that belief might be. However, anytime that anyone makes an argument on issues that involve the secular — such as public tax funding for sectarian religions or the standing of religions in the broader society — the person making the argument has the obligation to represent their case as honestly and completely as they can.

For example, if you make the argument that America must militarily invade another country because its dictator is going to attack us at any moment using weapons of mass destruction, but you rely solely on dubious intelligence while intentionally disregarding sound evidence that doesn’t support your position, that is not an honest argument.

You, Phil, do the same thing when you ignore — willfully, it seems to me — the crucial issue of taxes in your original post. You appear to do this in an attempt to portray Judge Pratt’s decision against Prison Fellowship’s eligibility for tax funding as a decision that somehow penalizes Evangelical Christianity itself, when the decision clearly does no such thing. So, your characterizations of the decision as "hostile" and "anti-faith" don’t hold up.

In my opinion, if you want to argue that certain forms of Christianity are disadvantaged in this society, you owe your readers a better argument, one that doesn’t misrepresent Prison Fellowship’s legal case or the judge’s decision. As it stands, your argument seems intent on portraying Evangelical Christianity as a kind of victim, when, as the Rev. Lynn says, that sect actually enjoyed many privileges under Bush’s "faith-based initiatives."

I hope that I haven’t sounded rude or disrespectful in my post. But this issue of intellectual dishonesty can really irritate me. While there is some of it among liberals, I think that it is especially pervasive in conservative circles, ranging from the need to go to war with Iraq to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys for "performance-related" reasons to many of the arguments made by conservative pundits. I’d respect their discussions more if they weren’t based on false premises. But too many of them are. I’m sick and tired of it.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


I believe you and I may be closer in thought than you think. My primary interest is in getting results. If secular progressives can do it, that's fine. If secular humanists can do, that's fine. If Muslims or Lutherans or Roman Catholics or Americans United can do, that's fine.

Where we differ is in how the difference in a life is made. If an inmate can redeem his or her life through secular education I'm willing to pay my fair share toward that end. If conversion to Christianity or another religion can do the same thing, I'm also willing to pay my fair share.

As I've said, I've done volunteer work in the prison system and I've seen the enourmous amounts of money that's been spent on programs that haven't provided any benefit whatsoever, but I've continued to fund them as a taxpayer. I'm sure I'll continue to do so.

Beyond the issue of taxes, the tone of Judge Pratt's decision was clear to me. First, because it showed an alarming misunderstanding of Evangelicals and Pentecostals (myself). Second, I'm at a loss to think of why he would have made statements that singled out Evangelicals as being anti-sacramental (which is not true),suspicious of other religious institutions, etc, etc. Why on earth did he have to single out particular beliefs of Evangelicals? Why did he do so with such a lack of understanding of what Evangelicals believe? Why wasn't it enough for him to say that it was in his opinion sectarian and leave it at that?

Judicial opinions are often based on precedents and it seems to me that in this case Judge Pratt was not only ruling on the tax merits, but also paving future ground to disqualify Evangelicals in this country's courts.

I've been unable to find the the 2003 study on Prison Fellowship you cited. Can you get me a link to the source material and Profesor Kleiman's analysis. I'd like to read the transcript and then the professor's analysis.


Rob in L.A. said...

"I believe you and I may be closer in thought than you think. My primary interest is in getting results…. Where we differ is in how the difference in a life is made." —Phil

The Rev. Lynn articulates the problem that I have with faith-based prison reform better than I could myself:

"We could sum up the conflict between fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist views as this: Fundamentalists reject societal causes for people’s ills. In fact, they often ridicule the very idea. To fundamentalists, people are poor, addicted to drugs, or homeless because they aren’t in a proper relationship with God. If they get right with God (by adopting fundamentalist religious beliefs) their problems will be solved. It’s that simple.

"Thus, any faith-based initiative that leans heavily on fundamentalist Christian providers will end up, by default, including government funding and support of specific religious views. Fundamentalists do not believe that providing for someone’s physical needs is enough. There must always be a religious conversion as well or the job remains half done. The conversion is their end goal. The providing of a bowl of soup, a bed on a cold night, or a job-counseling program is merely the attractive bait to bring the person to the door. Once inside, it’s hard-sell evangelism all the way.

"Not surprisingly, I have several problems with this approach. To begin with, I am appalled by any theology that does not recognize the societal causes of poverty and other ills. All too often people fall through the social safety net from no fault of their own. A woman with children who is abandoned by her husband and left destitute has a bigger problem than having chosen to attend the wrong house of worship. A child who is neglected because his parents are drug addicts is not being punished by God for failing to pray enough.

"Fundamentalists are free to believe such simplistic notions, but I resent having to pay for them." (Piety and Politics, p. 124)

"Beyond the issue of taxes, the tone of Judge Pratt's decision was clear to me. First, because it showed an alarming misunderstanding of Evangelicals and Pentecostals (myself). Second, I'm at a loss to think of why he would have made statements that singled out Evangelicals as being anti-sacramental (which is not true), suspicious of other religious institutions, etc, etc. " —Phil

If Judge Pratt showed a misunderstanding, I fail to see how it is an "alarming" one. I don’t see any judgemental tone in his writing. You may take issue with his understanding of particular denominational practices, but I don’t see his decision as pronouncing Evangelical Christianity, in your words, "egregiously out of the mainstream of current Christian thought." I merely see him dispassionately listing what he determines are the particularities of Evangelical Christian beliefs that separate it from the practices of other denominations. Judge Pratt simply concluded that by following the particular practices of Evangelical Christianity, Prison Fellowship was a denominational ministry — not a non-denominational one — and therefore ineligible for government funding. Is that so difficult to understand?

I suppose that is our disagreement: You see Judge Pratt’s characterization of Evangelical Christianity as condemnatory, and I don’t. In fact, I have read and reread his words, and I am hard-pressed to discern any judgemental language in what you have quoted.

"Why wasn't it enough for him to say that it was in his opinion sectarian and leave it at that?" —Phil

Because that would have left his decision more easily open to challenge. Judges need to be thorough. If Judge Pratt simply asserted that Prison Fellowship was sectarian and left it at that — or offered only a couple of examples — his decision could have more readily been challenged as arbitrary or lacking in specifics.

Maybe you see more similarities between Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism that the judge does, but you have to admit that Evangelical Christians practice their faith differently than most other Christian denominations do.

For the record, I see nothing about being "born again" in the Nicene Creed.

"Judicial opinions are often based on precedents and it seems to me that in this case Judge Pratt was not only ruling on the tax merits, but also paving future ground to disqualify Evangelicals in this country's courts." —Phil

And I just do not see how one follows the other. I do not see anything in Judge Pratt’s language that portends anything about the legal standing of Evangelicals, other than their standing in regards to tax money. I don’t see this decision as a precedent concerning religion and other (non-tax) issues.

"I've been unable to find the 2003 study on Prison Fellowship you cited. Can you get me a link to the source material and Professor Kleiman's analysis? I'd like to read the transcript and then the professor's analysis." —Phil

I’m not sure about the rest, but you can find Professor Kleiman’s Slate article here:

I don’t mean this as a personal attack, but I need to reiterate my concerns about the original post:

First, I think it was very disingenuous to write about Judge Pratt’s Prison Fellowship decision without ever once mentioning the inciting issue of tax money. It’s like writing a book report about Moby-Dick without ever once mentioning the white whale. By excluding the motivating issue of tax funding, it was easy to misrepresent the entire Prison Fellowship ministry — the organization itself — as being what was on trial, rather than its eligibility or ineligibility to receive public monies.

In misrepresenting Prison Fellowship’s court case this way, the original post misleadingly portrayed certain forms of Christianity — if not religion as a whole — as unduly put-upon in this society. This follows what I see as a certain persecution complex among some religious activists. They feel, it seems to me, that if the U.S. government (in a massive misreading of the First Amendment) does not recognize their version of Christianity as this country’s official faith — including the ability of that faith to receive tax money — they are being discriminated against.

Where I see governmental neutrality toward religion, they see hostility. I submit that there is no hostility. Religious hostility in America is in the mind’s eye of the religious activist.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


I was hoping for some area of common ground. Unfortunately I can't see any.

Rev. Lynn has done a real bait and switch. By calling Evangelicals and Pentecostals fundamentalists he really did a disservice. You might consider reading Harvey Cox's latest book "Fire From Heaven." It's about the rise of the Pentecostal movement in the world since the turn of the twentieth century. One of the things he makes clear is that Pentecostals (the same holds true for most Evangelicals) are far from being "fundamentalists." In fact, Pentecostals have been one of the main societal forces in integration, unlike the Methodist, Lutheran, and other mainline denominations. Pentecostals have been a great force in advancing women's roles in the church and society. And, in much of the world (Latin America, Asia, Africa, etc), they have been a real force in changing the economics of their societies. Pentecostals stand behind no denomination in these areas. They've done far more than provide lip service. I can guarantee that. Most Pentecostals and Evangelicals I've met care as deeply about, and share as much in the way of resources, to these types of causes as Rev. Lynn, perhaps more. I've never heard anyone in my extensive circle claim that poverty didn't have societal causes. I've never known of anyone in these circles who denied help to anyone because they failed to accept conversion. That is simply not true!

At this point I can't see any productive end to our dialogue. Perhaps there are other issues where we could find common ground.


Rob in L.A. said...

I regret that my postings weren’t able to begin a more fruitful discussion.

I’m afraid that the need to move on is the only thing that we can agree on.

Jim Baxter said...

"Man cannot make or invent or contrive principles. He can only discover them and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author."
-- Thomas Paine 1797